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Lithuania casts votes in second round

After an initial round of voting failed to provide a clear majority in legislative elections two weeks ago, Lithuanians return to the polls today to pick between three parties.

A woman with a child casts her ballot at a polling station in Vilnius on October 14(Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/dapd)

Wahlen in Litauen

Sunday's poll is likely to confirm the disappointment faced in the October 14 first round of voting by the current ruling Homeland Union party, which came in third place.

The Labor Party is likely to win this round, with the Social Democrats coming in second. The question that remains to be answered is whether the margin of victory for the Labor Party and the Social Democrats will be large enough that they are able to form a center-left coalition.

Lithuania, a nation of 3 million people, was hit hard by the financial crisis in 2008. The country's economy plummeted by 15 percent in 2009, when an economic bubble - financed by easy credit largely from Scandinavian banks - bottomed out.

In response, Lithuanians threw out the Social Democratic government and elected the Homeland Union party of the incumbent prime minister, Andrius Kubilius. The center-right coalition implemented draconian austerity measures, even rationing fuel for police cars and only turning on every other street light in the capital, Vilnius.

Lithuania has now returned to growth and has been heralded by eurozone members as a model for how Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain can overcome their debt problems. The Baltic nation's economy grew by 1.5 percent in 2010 and expanded by 5.8 percent in 2011, one of the fastest rates in the 27-member European Union.

Voters, however, appear eager to move beyond the austerity policies of the Homeland Union party. Labor and the Social Democrats say they can ease some of the hardship brought on by the austerity measures while still being fiscally responsible.

Lithuania hopes to adopt the euro as its currency. The leader of the Social Democrats, Algirdas Butkevicius, has said he wants Lithuania to adopt the euro in 2015, a year later than originally scheduled. That would allow the country to temporarily forgo the eurozone's tighter deficit rules, and give the embattled currency time to bounce back on international markets.

Results in Sunday's poll are expected to start coming in overnight.

mz/mr (Reuters, dapd)